The Center for Effective Philanthropy

I went to an excellent presentation yesterday put on by the Center for Effective Philanthropy. CEP’s report Beyond the Rhetoric examines how strategic foundations are in their grant making. The presentation and report show that although most all foundations say they are strategic and believe in the value of strategy, most are not actually following a strategy.

The study breaks foundations down into four groups:

  • Charitable Bankers
  • Perpetual Adjusters
  • Partial Strategists
  • Total Strategists

The spectrum runs from foundations whose decision making framework is internally focused and lacking any hypothesized connection between the use of their resources and goal achievement, to foundations who focus on the external environment in which they operate and direct resources to support their goals.

Rather than summarizing their extensive findings, I’m pleased to say that CEP has created an excellent website dedicated to the research. With audio, video and flash presentations, plus links to the full report and data, the Beyond the Rhetoric website is one of the most advanced and effective philanthropic web resources I’ve come across. You can access the site here.

I’m also in the process of booking CEP executive director Phil Buchanan, a member of the 2007 Nonprofit Times Power & Influence Top 50, for a future podcast.

The research report is focused on strategy in big foundations. But I think a lot of the lessons can be applied to individual giving as well. While it may take years for a large foundation to move from Charitable Banker to Total Strategist, an individual or family could embrace strategy literally by putting a weekend of thinking into it. I’ll be exploring the implications of the Beyond the Rhetoric research for individual and family philanthropist in future posts.